Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.
David M. Schell’s Story
I got spanked a lot growing up. Sometimes once a day, sometimes more often.
Spanking was a legacy handed down by grandparents on both sides. My grandfather used a belt on my dad and his eleven siblings. My paternal grandmother used whatever was handy. “We learned not to irritate her while she was ironing,” my dad would joke.
He was determined to be different until he realized “At least my dad got respect.” He took up corporal punishment. I think he went with a board instead of the rod prescribed by Proverbs because it seemed to be in the spirit of the law and more merciful.
I remember my dad asking my mom when it was appropriate to start spanking my younger siblings. He decided as soon as a child was old enough to say no, they were old enough to spank for their rebellion, which was as the sin of witchcraft. I think some of my siblings got their first spanking before they were two years old.
Disobedience of any kind was always rebranded as “rebellion” and was a spankable offense. Worse, he taught us that any time we disobeyed him, it was disobedience to God, because children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Disobedience to him was rebellion against God. He added that “To delay is to disobey,” so failure to obey immediately was also disobedience, and also therefore sin.
I was immensely frustrated and angry when I realized that my dad could turn anything into a sin simply by forbidding it, and he often did. He could make failure to do anything a sin, simply by telling me to do it. This realization made me feel helpless.
Like many kids, we had chores. My dad inspected each chore, every night. Those who completed their chores to his satisfaction were given a bedtime snack. Those who failed to complete them to his satisfaction were not given a snack, but instead spanked.
He often said, “I spank extra-hard for lying” to remind us that lying to get out of trouble would get us into more trouble, so we might as well tell the truth and take the spanking.
If we got into fights in which someone got hurt, the offending party was spanked.
When we got in trouble at church (maybe for talking out of turn; I don’t even remember), he would use a plastic coat hanger. Coat hangers were the worst, so we were more careful to behave at church.
At church he would be more cautious to hide the “discipline,” warning us that the government didn’t believe in the Bible and might take us away from our parents if we were caught. Not only were we the victims, but we were forced to collaborate, because nothing seemed worse at that age than being ripped away from our family.
My dad didn’t limit his sources of child-rearing advice to sacred scripture.
He also took disciplinary advice from the communists in a book he read to us called Tortured for his Faith. It was about Haralan Popov, a Bulgarian Christian who spent over a decade in prisons on charges of treason. It wasn’t completely unlike a horror story. In one episode, the communists, trying to break Popov, forced him to stand against a white wall for days on end, hitting him when he shut his eyes.
Shortly after reading this book, my dad instituted a new consequence for talking out of turn during our nightly hour-long “Bible Story:” Stand up until he was satisfied we had learned our lesson. I found myself standing during “Bible Story” every night after this.
When I got angry and blew up about something, my dad would assign me to find verses from Proverbs about anger and copy them in good handwriting. It took me years to re-learn how to be angry, and longer to learn how to have a healthy level of anger.
I don’t doubt that he had good intentions. He was then, and is now, “trying to do what is pleasing to the Lord.” The difference between then and now is that my siblings, my mom, and I have grown up and moved out, and now there’s nobody left for him to hurt in his attempts to please the Lord.
I think most adults look back fondly on their childhood and wish they could go back. I don’t. I don’t miss always dreading my dad coming home from work. I don’t miss hour-long sessions of my dad reading the Bible and making points, and having to stand up because my brain was wired directly to my mouth. I don’t miss my dad’s arbitrary rules having more power and authority then any of the rules in the Bible except “Children obey your parents.” I don’t miss having to copy verses about anger from Proverbs.
And I don’t miss being hit every night.